As soon as you enter McLanahan’s grocery store, Chronic Town or Jamaica Junction, you’ll find a display of increasingly popular electronic cigarettes and their many accessories.
Sales of electronic cigarettes are on the rise, particularly among college students and other young adults. Some want to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes; other just want to satisfy their oral cravings with what they believe is a less harmful alternative.
The devices’ popularity was underscored recently, when the editors of the Oxford Dictionaries named “vape” as their word of the year for 2014. “Vape,” or “vaping,” refers to inhaling and exhaling the vapors from an electronic cigarette.
Vape “sat at the center of several rich cultural conversations: the debate over private versus community rights; regulation and public health; and our relationship to our visible vices,” dictionaries division President Casper Grathwohl told The Wall Street Journal in a Nov. 17 article.
Maggie Kaleita, a Penn State senior, said she used to smoke tobacco cigarettes until she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer affecting bones in children and young adults up to age 30.
“After you get cancer, you can’t even think about smoking cigarettes without feeling guilty, so e-cigs were a good alternative,” she said.
Kaleita is a cashier at McLanahan’s, where both cigarettes and e-cigarettes are displayed behind the counter.
With the emergence of hookah lounges and smoke shops in small college towns and major cities, young adults have started the trend of “vaping.”
An electronic cigarette — also called an e-cig, e-cigarette, personal vaporizer or electronic nicotine delivery system — is a battery-powered vaporizer that provides the feel of smoking tobacco. It produces a mist rather than smoke. A heating element vaporizes a solution known as e-liquid.
Citing Wells Fargo Securities, a New York Times report said e-cigarette sales more than doubled in 2013 from 2012, to $1.7 billion, with consumption projected to exceed that of tobacco cigarettes in the coming decade.
The number of stores selling e-cigs quadrupled in a year, according to the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, an e-cigarette industry trade group, the Times article said.
At Jamaica Junction, employee Liz Hamilton said the liquid in e-cigarettes has a vegetable base with added flavoring and doesn’t contain the same carcinogens that are in regular cigarettes.
According to the website cigalternative.com, few carcinogenic chemicals have been found in e-cigarette vapors, and those present appear in trace quantities, far less than in burning tobacco, and similar or less than in recognized nicotine replacement therapies.
However, the Food and Drug Administration website reports that “e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, so consumers currently don’t know the potential risks of e-cigarettes when used as intended, how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or whether there are any benefits associated with using these products.”
Still, Hamilton said, “Vaping is a trend that is catching on in State College for a lot of people.”
The idea of flavored, steamed nicotine came from a concept called Tastypuff — flavored droplets a smoker can put on a cigarette, she said.
“It was popular for a long time,” Hamilton said. “Also, you have hookah shisha, which is flavored tobacco. Anyone who comes in to buy e-cigs always says they love the taste.”
There are still health risks involved with using e-cigs, but they differ from using tobacco cigarettes, she said. “They are more addictive.”
“People think of e-cigs differently,” she said. “They do not consider that it is an actual cigarette, and it can do much harm to them.”
To resolve this, a customer can buy liquid for e-cigs that does not contain nicotine, she said. She added that a person is putting a vapor into their lungs that is not there naturally, so it must not be good for them.
Hamilton said she feels a lot of people switch to e-cigs in an attempt to stop smoking; for others, e-cigs are the only thing they have used.
Zachary Boyer, the manager at Chronic Town, said he successfully used e-cigs as a way to stop smoking tobacco. He knows others who have tried it as well.
“A lot of the time, people who like smoking hookah or cigarettes do not really want to smoke cigarettes regularly,” he said. “With e-cigs, they still get the buzz without the health risks that go along with smoking actual cigarettes.”
Boyer said he thinks that State College doesn’t have a lot of people who are regular tobacco smokers, but that it has a large population of casual smokers who usually link their smoking to stress and drinking.
Just within the past year, McLanahan’s started selling electronic cigarettes after receiving requests from costumers, Kaleita, the cashier, said.
E-cigs with and without nicotine cost the same. Cost differences are based on the quantity of the e-liquid in them, which is measured by the number of puffs an e-cig contains.
At both McLanahan’s and Chronic Town, an e-cig with 400 puffs costs about $10, and an e-cig with 800 puffs costs $15, Boyer said. By comparison, in Pennsylvania, the average pack of 20 tobacco cigarettes cost $6.85, according to the awl.com.